Among charity shops, it is a legend. It is the motherlode, the Aladdin’s Cave, a treasury of delights for those of us who love to sift through the second-hand. It is El Dorado. The real Treasure Island. People speak of Whalsay’s Shoard shop in hushed voices, plotting expeditions, trying to fit its famously short opening hours around ferries and the other distractions of life.
People return changed, awed, somehow. “There’s a whole rack of wetsuits!” That was one saucer-eyed response, though to be technical about it, some of them were flotation suits. Not to be picky. Having mentioned that I was planning a trip, I was given a list of demands by an assortment of people. One said:
“They have a basket of towels. They’re good towels, but not perfect, and they’re classified as such. They’re 50p each. Get me…get me a fiver’s worth!”
Alas, I couldn’t go to Whalsay that day (actually, nobody could; the ferries had been cancelled due to the weather). Indeed, I have never been to Brough, to what is technically, the Whalsay Disability and Special Needs Support Group charity shop. My daughter and her boyfriend, however, made the pilgrimage a few Saturdays ago (the shop is open between 2.00pm and 4.00pm, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday) and came back with, among other things, two vintage Meccano sets, one unopened; several vinyl records for me; an almost-complete set of back numbers of Shetland Life and various other wonders, including many of the plates and saucers that became the Brae Young Enterprise project Clinkin’s cakestands.
The bargains were eye-watering. Nevertheless, I almost fell off my seat when Barbara Stewart, one of the women who has been involved with Shoard since the start, told me how much had been raised since the shop opened in 1989. More than £200,000. It is truly phenomenal. And the money supports – that’s the meaning of the word ‘shoard’; a prop or support, as in to shore up – not just local charities, groups and individuals, but such worthy causes as the refurbishment of self-catering accommodation for people travelling to Aberdeen Maternity Hospital. As well as charities abroad and at home.
You owe yourself a visit to Shoard. I owe myself a visit. Just remember to book the ferry both ways.
Barbara Stewart: “Well, it’s been going a long time now – since 1989, when we started the Whalsay Disability and Special Needs Support Group, just as a group to raise funds for folk, young and old, with special needs or who were disabled . We thought about an acronymn, looked for a better name, and then someone came up with Shoard., and that just seemed absolutely right.
“We raised money in various ways. We had sponsored walks around the island, and then we had an annual jumble sale, which was just amazing. I couldn’t believe the stuff that we were getting to sell at that. And I also couldn’t believe the things that were being thrown away in skips. So we thought, this is really super. Why not keep this up, and have a shop?
“The old Brough school had been used by John Tait as a knitting factory, but that had closed down. John Tait let us use it, and at first it was just the one room – but we soon moved into another room, and then another. Finally, we thought we needed to buy it, and we set off to raise enough money to do that. We had no help from the council or anything like that. This was long before recycling became as fashionable as it is now! I have to say that without John Tait, the Shoard shop would never have taken off – and honestly, I have to tell you he gave us that building for a song.
“I was always determined the shop should have the best stock, and at first, I had a pickup and I would drive around and collect things from people. We try to keep the place really nice, too, and even wrap things properly for folk! As well as selling things on we can take stamps and mobile phones and recycle them through charities that help developing countries abroad. And there’s furniture too. Everything from a needle to an anchor!
“People come from all over Shetland, and even sooth! I’m not saying they come to Shetland specially to come to Shoard, but once they’re here, they hear about the shop and want to come. Also, Shoard has become an example and even an inspiration for others – We’ve been to Yell and to Aith to talk about the shop and the folk there have set up similar kinds of community things. It’s something Whalsay can be really proud of. And it does a tremendous amount of good.”